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PostPosted: 06 Apr 2010, 14:27 
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'Lustrous Potentate
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Thought I'd start a catchall thread for some musings about the polytheistic roots of Judaism the the origins of monotheistic Yahwism.

What we know directly about Canaanite religion comes primarily from cuneiform inscriptions on clay tablets from archaeological sites such as Ugarit. There are some Greek sources, and some information can be gleaned from biblical sources as well, once you factor out the antagonism.

There was the usual pantheon of gods and goddesses, and, if the earliest Israelite records are indicative, holidays revolved around lunar cycles and agricultural seasons.

The general hypothesis I am interested in exploring is that monotheism was a foreign import into Canaan, and only very slowly, over centuries, carried the day over traditional polytheistic practices.

The Tanakh (Hebrew scriptures) contain two different versions of the "conquest" of Canaan: Joshua and Judges. Joshua depicts it as a military takeover, while Judges describes a peaceful settlement. Archaeology rejects the invasion theory, and is more supportive of the idea of the peaceful settlement of a smaller number of immigrants.

Exodus describes the newcomers as having come from Egypt, around the year 1400 BCE. This is roughly the same time that Akhenaten reigned in Egypt, and attempted to impose monotheism there. There is no archaeological evidence for a mass migration of Israelites from Egypt as described in Exodus. Is it possible, though, that a small number of Egyptian monotheists fled after Akhenaten's death, as Atenist monotheism fell out of favor? Interestingly, there is evidence of plague and pandemic disease around this time period as well. And "Moses" is, after all, an Egyptian name.


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PostPosted: 06 Apr 2010, 14:36 
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Grand Poobah
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The OT has references to the Queen of Heaven (thought to be similar to Astarte) and various references of idols and household gods well into Solomon's reign--- and that can be placed easily 900bce.

After that, there are records of Jews coexisting with other religions, and possibly co-worshiping them. Jezebel was killed for continuing to practice her religion after marrying as Jewish king after Solomon, who apparently worshiped along side his wives at their altars.

The Jews have a long and solid history of not worshiping Yahweh, as evidenced by the Golden Calf.

I like the Akenaten idea putting the seeds of monotheism into the Jews, but it seems to me that 500 years was a long time for them to germinate.

I was also taught that Jews didn't ever believe there was only one true god, but that there was only one true god for them. Other gods existed for other people.

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PostPosted: 06 Apr 2010, 14:44 
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'Lustrous Potentate
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"Henotheism", sure. It is particularly clear in the Torah; only in later writings is it more clearly stated that other gods don't exist.

Yes, the time gap is the biggest argument against the Akhenaten hypothesis. But there is certainly no evidence of monotheistic Israelites departing Egypt en masse circa 1400 BCE either. It is possible that Israelite theologians developed monotheism independently. Or perhaps there were legends about those theoretical Egyptian monotheists that persisted. Or perhaps it really did percolate underground, as it were, for 500 years. Consider that some descendants of Spanish Jews forced to convert to Christianity 500 years ago continue to this day to secretly practice crypto-Judaism.

Anyhow, I'm looking forward to doing some more reading about it. :)


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